Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Leicester's Labour Mayor prevents finance staff attending scrutiny meeting

Says who? Says Labour councillor and chair of the city council's scrutiny committee Ross Wilmott.

Leicester's Labour group has always been faction ridden, but you have usually had to read between the lines to work out what is going on. But you don't have to be a redeployed kremlinologist to make sense of Wilmott's latest blog post:
we have heard from Soulsby over and over again that propriety, openness, inclusiveness and robust scrutiny are highly valued and in his view were lacking of late in Leicester. He therefore gave assurances throughout his campaign and since his election that scrutiny will be independent, transparent, robust, and fully resourced. 
Well, the last meeting raised serious questions about Soulsby’s commitment to any of these principles. It’s hardly independent if the Mayor vetoes reports and stops officers from attending. It’s hardly transparent if he does not explain that he has done this. It can never be robust if we are denied the information with which to scrutinise. And so far scrutiny is not properly resourced, although the committee did welcome the assurance from the mayor that this would be resolved as quickly as possible. 
The Committee agreed that in future finance officers as well as legal advisors will attend every meeting. Making it clear that it is not the mayor who decides who should attend.
Note too that Vijay Patel, the former leader of the council managed to appear even more ridiculous over the rehiring of its finance chief four months after he had been paid off by failing to turn up for the scrutiny meeting because he had a cold.

In May, when Labour found itself with a Labour mayor and 52 out of 54 councillors, I wrote:
There is certainly a strong case for using a proportional system for electing councils in city's with mayors. The Leicester Mercury's political correspondent has pointed out that under a proportional system Labour would have won 35 seats, the Tories 11 and the Lib Dems 8 - still a thumping majority, but a far healthier balance for politics in the city. 
Or if that is beyond the pale after another recent result, then at least for electing the mayor and the councillors in different years.
But it seems that Labour may be able to provide some proper scrutiny after all. As David Maclean, the Leicester Mercury's political correspondent, wrote on his own blog:
The tough tone Ross uses, however, is surprising. It’s also encouraging. I have doubts about the effectiveness of some scrutiny members. Some councillors by nature do not wish to rock the boat. Many want a cabinet position. It happens at all councils, not just Leicester. It’s the trouble with scrutiny.
It seems that for many councillors it’s difficult to separate party responsibilities from their duties to the people of the city.
Last year on scrutiny Ross showed some promising signs when it came to putting aside party loyalty for the good of city. Now, it appears, he’s relishing his chairmanship and quite rightly setting aside party loyalties when scrutinising.
And good for him, though you may also see Wilmott's independence as a sign of his disaffection from the ruling faction in Leicester Labour. He lost to Sir Peter Soulsby in the contest to be the Labour candidate in the city's first mayoral election and was then kept off the short list for the Leicester South by-election so that the seat could be used to parachute in Ed Miliband's PR man.

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